Dáil Éireann - Volume 503 - 20 April, 1999

Adjournment Debate. - Report on the Elderly.

Mr. Ring: I recently read in a newspaper an article concerning a report on the elderly and was appalled to find that the Minister and the Department which commissioned the report subsequently left it for 12 months without taking action. Why did the Minister sit on the report for one year? What has he done about the recommendations in the report during that period? As many as 12,000 older people, or 3 per cent, are subject to abuse. Forms of abuse include slapping, threatening, starvation and isolation. Abuse occurs both in the home and in institutions. Older people are unlikely to report abuse out of shame and fear, something which has been proven in the report.

Inspectoral procedures for publicly run institutions for older people should be introduced as [515] a matter of priority. Private nursing homes are already inspected and it is time public nursing homes and institutions were also inspected.

Shortage of beds means that lower quality private nursing homes can continue to thrive. A representative working party should be set up immediately in the Department of Health and Children to advise the Minister on the next step to take in tackling the problem. I recommend the establishment of a number of group homes, particularly in towns and villages in the west where marriage rates were low in the 1930s and 1940s and when thousands of people emigrated. Many such people are left in isolation and fear, afraid for their safety. They are being robbed and abused by all sorts of people who come to the west late at night and leave early in the morning. The Minister should examine the possibility of homes for such people in their own villages and towns so that neighbours and friends can visit.

Abuse is a serious matter. There would be uproar if 12,000 young children were being abused. If 12,000 young adults were abused, the matter would be raised every morning on the Order of Business. What is wrong with a society which will not look after the elderly? The elderly have made a major contribution to the State and should be cared for. They should not have to live in fear or in circumstances where they are abused. The Government and all State agencies should assist them. A person who reaches the age of 70 years, regardless of resources, should have a free medical card and free health care.

Deputy Noonan, as Minister, commissioned this report and it is outrageous that it was left on the desk of Deputy Cowen, a senior Minister, for over a year without being published.

If we were told that 12,000 people were being abused in some Third World country the British, the Americans, our Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Government would be telling dictatorships what they should be doing and asking why nothing was being done. What is being done for our elderly people? What recommendations in the report will the Minister accept? We should not be afraid to look after the elderly and we must take steps to ensure that when people reach 70 or 75 years of age they are looked after by the State. I do not think anybody would complain, particularly given the current state of the economy, the money available and the record tax receipts. What is wrong with supporting the people who helped found and build the State? The least these people should have is the opportunity to live in comfort and style and not be afraid.

It is outrageous that 12,000 elderly people can be abused in this era of the Celtic tiger and that we are not protecting the weak in society.

[516] Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Dr. Moffatt): I thank Deputy Ring for raising this issue on the Adjournment. The report entitled Abuse, Neglect and Mistreatment of Older People in Ireland: An Exploratory Study was recently published by the National Council on Ageing and Older People. The study was commissioned by the national council following a request from my Department that it investigate the issue of elder abuse and advise on how it should be evaluated and responded to.

One of the main recommendations was that a working group should be established to advise on policy, procedures and guidelines on elder abuse. The report suggested that the group might include representatives of older people's representative groups, long-stay institutional care staff, representatives of the private nursing home sector, carers' organisations, hospital care professionals, community care professionals, Departments, health boards, local authorities, An Garda Síochána, legal professionals, voluntary service providers and any other relevant parties.

In September 1998 my Department requested the national council to arrange for the publication of the report and suggested that an expert group be appointed under the direction of the council to prepare guidelines and advise on appropriate procedures for dealing with the matters raised in the report.

At the time there were a number of vacancies in the membership of the national council and it was without a chairperson. Because of this, and the importance of the subject, the council decided to defer further action on the matter until it was back to full strength. The new appointments were made at the end of December 1998 and I understand that at a meeting of the council on 10 February 1999 the establishment of an expert group was discussed. Subsequently the matter was considered by a group of council members at a special meeting and certain proposals to progress matters were put to my Department. My Department has arranged to meet the national council on 6 May and I expect the functions and membership of the expert group will be agreed at this meeting.

I would like to assure the Deputy that I regard any type of abuse of an older person in a serious light. What I hope will emerge from this exercise is a clear set of definitions, policies, guidelines and procedures which will lessen the possibility of abuse of an older person, and where there is a suggestion that it might have occurred, agreed mechanisms for a full investigation and any appropriate responses where required.

I again thank the Deputy for bringing this matter to our attention, assure him that I have the greatest respect for some of the matters he has outlined and that we will progress the issue at full speed.

The Dáil adjourned at 9 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 21 April 1999.